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Smuin Contemporary American Ballet's Program Uneven

by Joanna G. Harris
September 24, 2016
Lesher Center for the Arts
1601 Civic Drive
Walnut Creek, CA 94596
(925) 943-7469
Joanna G. Harris Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
The Smuin Contemporary American Ballet Company can boast beautiful, accomplished dancers. They are young, skilled and capable of enlisting the audience in joy. What their performance on September 23 at Lesher Center for the Arts lacked was sophistication and musical responsiveness in the choreography.

Smuin’s own “Stabat Mater” was the centerpiece of the program. Set to music by Dvoräk, he (Smuin) noted that he had with the making of the work, “found my response to all the death and pain of the those terrible days (i.e. 9/11 and its aftermath.) Of course the original was the lament Mary undergoes for the death of Jesus.

Erica Chipp and Robert Kretz took the leading parts. Chipp’s solo work was very responsible to the thematic material as was her duets with Kretz, the soon departing hero. Her red costume served to bring focus to her center stage performance. The chorus surrounding her added little to the general impact.

The evening opened with “Indigo” to Vivaldi’s “Concerto in B minor” and the “Cello Concerto in G minor.” The "Indigo" costumes were skimpy on the girls (more like harem costumes) and presentable blue for the boy. This piece, unlike the others, was danced on pointe.

The overall effect however, was totally kitsch. The standard ballet vocabulary does call for many lifts, extensions, splits and other well-known acrobatic feats. But this work, by choreographer Stanton Welch, belongs to a genre of performance that is embarrassing. The audience deserves more sophistication.

Alas, the same was true for Australian choreographer Garret Ammen’s
world premiere “Madness, Rack, and Honey." Although Ammen refers in his program note to the poet Mary Fuefle, he is quoted as saying, "…the meaning of any of this will remain frustratingly elusive.” And it does.

Ammen has chosen Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante in F flat major” for the piece, a lively long work. Unfortunately the choreography does not sustain the musical material, since “Madness…” is centered on a single vaudeville joke, “steal the hat, pass the hat.” The dancers were clever and quick to achieve this, taking hats from the boys, flattening them, and the boys, out with gesture and flirtation, but it goes on too long. There was much peeking under skirts, falling on top of one another, many lifts and a general seductive romp. Mozart had a sense of humor but this work deserves and should have good Broadway score.

The Company dancers are: Tesse Barbour, Mengjun Chen, Crica Chip, Terez Dean, Erica Felsch, Valerie Harmon, Nicole Haskins, Dustin James, Robert Kretz, Ben Needham Wood, Jonathan Powell, Lauren Pschirrer, Benamin Warner, Michael Wells, Rex Wheeler and Reric Yarbrough Powell. They are to be congratulated for their spirit and energy.
Smuin Contemporary American Ballet in Stanton Welch's 'Indigo.'

Smuin Contemporary American Ballet in Stanton Welch's "Indigo."

Photo © & courtesy of Chris Hardy


Smuin Contemporary American Ballet's Erica Felsch and Benjamin Warner in Garret Ammen’s “Madness, Rack, and Honey.”

Smuin Contemporary American Ballet's Erica Felsch and Benjamin Warner in Garret Ammen’s “Madness, Rack, and Honey.”

Photo © & courtesy of Chris Hardy


Smuin Contemporary American Ballet in Garret Ammen’s “Madness, Rack, and Honey.”

Smuin Contemporary American Ballet in Garret Ammen’s “Madness, Rack, and Honey.”

Photo © & courtesy of Chris Hardy

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